Prosecutors call for death sentence for Naga Hammadi murder suspects

An Egyptian Emergency State Security court Tuesday postponed the trial of three Muslims who face the death penalty if found guilty of killing six Christians and another Muslim on the eve of Coptic Christmas in early January this year. The crimes took place in the city of Naga Hammadi, 600km south of Cairo.

Judicial sources said the trial has been postponed until 18 December to hear the defense lawyers' closing statements.

They also said the prosecutors requested the maximum penalty be applied. If found guilty of pre-mediated murder, the three Muslims could be sentenced to death.

The defense team had previously argued the trial was unconstitutional, since it is being held in an emergency court.

The case has sparked considerable controversy, since it represents the first time in decades defendants in a sectarian case have been referred to the emergency state security court, the verdict of which can only be appealed by the President.

The defendants have been also charged with using force to disrupt public order and intimidate the citizenry.

Both the US and the EU have expressed concern over perceived sectarian tension in Egypt, calling on the Egyptian government to take adequate measures to address the phenomenon.

It is believed that Coptic Christians account for between seven and nine percent of Egypt's 80-million-strong population.

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